Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Final Day of National Poetry Month Post: The Salt Earthworks Series

SINCE I BEGAN NATIONAL Poetry Month with a post on poetry and race, it seemed fitting to end with that topic as well. This time, though, the subject is a series of books, rather than a single collection. Salt Publishing, a great press whose main office is located in the U.K., recently launched a poetry series devoted to contemporary American Indian poetry. Edited by poet and scholar Janet McAdams and featuring books by LeAnne Howe, A. A. Hedge Coke, Heid Erdrich, Diane Glancy, Deborah Miranda, Gordon Henry, and Carter Revard, the Earthworks Series has emerged as the most important poetry series in the United States this century--maybe the most significant since the Pitt Poetry Series began three decades ago.

There are many things to celebrate about this series.

First, it establishes contemporary American Indian poetry as a canon-making genre. A potential criticism of the series might be that it further segregates poetry by Anglo writers and writers of color, but I would argue that this series, when taken as a whole, offers a panoramic view of recent Native poetry, enabling readers not familiar with such work to better see how it may fit in to the larger sweep of "American Poetry." Stumbling across a random book of poems by an author here or there may not tell you much, but this series allows Native poets to paint in broad strokes on the canvas that is Native discourse.

Second, Salt keeps its books in print and never charges reprint fees for other publications and anthologies. This last point is, in some ways, the most important. As someone who has to reprint a lot of poems for various publications, paying copyright and reprint fees can be prohibitive. Since Salt allows those publishing anthologies and criticism to publish Salt works free of charge, I predict more and more poems from this series will find readers.

Additionally, the series is just cool. The covers are artistic, evocative, and metaphorical without stereotyping or sentimentalizing. Several of the books have won or been shortlisted for awards. LeAnne Howe's hilarious Evidence of Red, won the 2006 Oklahoma Book Award for poetry. (Bonus: a trip to the website, (click above) takes you to the Salt page where you can view a photo of Howe receiving her award while doing her best impersonation of her stoned undergraduates). Heid Erdrich's book, a meditation on love, family, and maternity, was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards. Most importantly, the series introduces new writers by publishing young poets whose names are not yet well known, like James Thomas Stevens, Cat Ruiz, and Phillip Carroll Morgan, whose collection, The Fork-in-the Road Indian Poetry Store won the Native Writers Circle of the Americas First Book Award.

Down the road, it will be important for someone to write about why this collection exits, what, exactly, its contribution is to American Letters, what, if anything, the totality of the books argue about American poetry and Native American realities, and why a series of Native American poetry is published by a British Press. But, for now, with the ghost of National Poetry Month settling in for a long nap, we should just celebrate that this fine collection is out there working this earth.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad someone is writing about these books as a publishing event, though I think it would do all of the books a service to mention more than a few. The ones you mention are important, yes, but more needs to be said.